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MAGAZINE of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association





OECTA’s legal assistance policy The new OSAP calculator New rules for political engagement in upcoming provincial election








Single course only


CO N T E N T S/D EC 2017








10 THE FALLING TOWER OF PISA Pearson and the erosion of public education By Mark Tagliaferri 12






Teacher activism in the 2018 provincial election By Mark Tagliaferri

New tool makes student financial assistance clearer By Mark Tagliaferri




Legal assistance to members

By Joe Pece

20 OECTA’S PROVINCIAL LTD PLAN What you need to know about cancelling your long-term disability coverage By Mary Lachapelle 21 INSIGHT Christmas lessons for life By Michelle Despault 22 CATHOLIC CONNECTION Advent: a time to make our world small By Shannon Hogan

PEOPLE WORTH WATCHING 23 FINDING YOUR VOICE Tia Duke empowers students through diversity By Mark Tagliaferri


24 TEACHING IS TRULY UNIVERSAL My life-changing experience in Uganda with Project Overseas By Angie Shura 26 LIVING MY FAITH IN LINARES By Lisa Beganyi 27 THE GRACE OF MOTHERHOOD A Christmas reminder By Laurie Azzi

VIEWPOINT 28 SHARING IS NOT CARING The sharing economy is shaking things up, not always for the better By Adam Lemieux


30 FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH Lessons from Tom Petty By Gian Marcon


PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE One of the great responsibilities of being President of this Association is the honour of representing teachers within the broader Catholic education community. Over the past few months, I have attended events with the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education and the Catholic Education Foundation of Ontario. I also attended the annual Cardinal’s Dinner, and I joined a number of Catholic teachers at the Institute for Catholic Education’s “Renewing the Promise” symposium. At every one of these events, I was reminded of the extraordinary opportunity that Catholic teachers have to work in our unique publicly funded education system. The ability to teach the curriculum through the gospel values enables us not only to develop students’ knowledge and skills, but also to foster feelings of purpose and belonging that help to make a more peaceful, cohesive society. As we enter the Christmas season, there is no more appropriate time for all of us to reflect upon what it means to be a Catholic teacher. In these pages, you will find a message from Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto. You will also find a piece by Shannon Hogan, Staff Officer in the Counselling and Member Services department and Association liaison to the Institute for Catholic Education, about the role that Catholic teachers play in creating welcoming, inclusive environments for all students. While each of us may not always view our faith and profession from the same perspective, it is in the spirit of the season that we come together to celebrate our shared gifts and consider how to make our Catholic education system stronger. Of course, as the school year goes on, we also remain focused on the many other responsibilities that come with being a teacher in the province of Ontario. You will remember that the Ministry of Education has announced it will undertake a three-to-five year process of reviewing the curriculum and assessment, including EQAO. And the Education Equity Secretariat will be pursuing a number of small and large changes to eliminate discrimination from the education system. These initiatives are on top of the long list of ongoing consultations, examinations, and reforms, around things like well-being, careers, and Indigenous education. To be sure, many of these topics are worthy of discussion. However, we need to be cognizant of the strain that all of these initiatives put on teachers and the Association. I recently raised this issue with the Minister of Education, and I assure you that I will continue to advocate for careful, measured approaches that allow teachers to concentrate on their most important role: interacting with students in the classroom. Meanwhile, as always at this time of year, we are turning our eye toward the Annual General Meeting (AGM), which will take place March 10 to 12 at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto. The past few meetings have seen an impressive number of first-time delegates and speakers at the microphones. I hope the trend will continue this year. Our Association is a democratic organization, and it works best when we have a diversity of viewpoints and voices. If you are interested in becoming an AGM delegate, contact your local unit as soon as possible. Although it almost goes without saying that Christmas is a significant time we should never lose sight of the opportunity to enjoy our loved ones and appreciate our good fortune. Our jobs can be stressful, and it seems our to-do list only ever gets longer. But above all, we are blessed with the chance to follow our faith and shape the world around us for the better. I hope these will count among the many reasons for you to rejoice during this holiday season.

Michelle Despault Editor Mark Tagliaferri Associate Editor Cynthia Bifolchi Writer/Researcher Fernanda Monteiro Production Anna Anezyris Advertising EDITORIAL BOARD Liz Stuart President Warren Grafton First Vice-President Marshall Jarvis General Secretary David Church Deputy General Secretary Adam Lemieux Executive Resource Assistant Catholic Teacher is published five times during the school year. Opinions and ideas expressed in Catholic Teacher are not necessarily those of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

Catholic Teacher is a member of the Canadian Educational Press Association, and the Canadian Association of Labour Media. Return undelivered Canadian addresses to: Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, 65 St. Clair Avenue East, Toronto, ON M4T 2Y8 PHONE 416-925-2493 TOLL-FREE 1-800-268-7230 FAX 416-925-7764 Publication Mail Agreement No. 0040062510 Account No. 0001681016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Cover: Is the winning submission from OECTA’s Christmas Card Contest, by Alishia Ellis, a teacher at Jeanne Sauve Catholic School, OECTA Huron-Perth Board. Her artwork can be viewed on her website:



Do you know an outstanding teacher? Why not nominate them for an OTIP/OTF Teaching Award or a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence? OTIP/OTF: These awards recognize teachers who inspire

students, colleagues, and parents in Ontario’s publicly funded education system. Anyone can nominate a teacher in one of three categories: elementary, secondary, or a beginning teacher in the first five years of teaching. Winners receive $1,000 and a Certificate of Recognition for both themselves and their schools. Nominations open January 9 and close March 31, 2018. Visit for more information.

PM Awards: These awards honour outstanding and innovative

elementary and secondary school teachers in all disciplines for their remarkable educational achievements and for their commitment to preparing their students for a digital- and innovation-based economy. New this year, awards will also recognize inspirational Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) teachers at the elementary or secondary school level who keep students engaged in STEM learning and who help develop the culture of innovation that Canada needs today, and in the future. Nominations are being accepted now until January 12, 2018. Visit for nominations criteria and packages.


OECTA’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) will take place March 10 to 12, 2018 at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle. If you would like to be considered as an AGM delegate for your unit, please contact your unit president as soon as possible. MY STORY IN NUMBERS! CONTEST

Do you teach students between the ages of 8 and 18? Statistics Canada is looking for writers, photographers, videographers, and multimedia artists to participate in the My Story in Numbers! contest. Young Canadians have unique stories to tell about themselves, their family, community, region, province, territory, or country. Statistics Canada wants to hear their stories – in the artistic formatof their choice – to show our country through the lens of statistics and, more importantly, through the eyes of our Canadian youth! Stories must be submitted before 11:59 Pacific Time on November 22, for a chance to win cool prizes of $250 to $1,000. Visit for all the details and official rules.

FeelingBetterNow Connecting Mental Health Problems to Solutions


OECTA is once again a proud sponsor of the annual Young Authors Awards/Prix Jeunes Écrivains. The awards celebrate the writing talents of students who submit short stories, poems, non-fiction articles, and reports in both English and French. The first place winners at the school level advance to the unit level and then to the provincial competition. A collection of the winning entries is published in book form. Teachers must submit their class entries to their school’s Association representative by February 13, 2018. DESIGN THE OECTA CHRISTMAS CARD

Do you have an artistic side? OECTA is looking for season-themed art to use on our 2018 Christmas card. The winning entry will also grace the cover of Catholic Teacher magazine next December and be the official card sent out by the Association to stakeholders. Submit an original, two-dimensional piece of finished art (photograph, sketch, collage, or painting) to OECTA’s Communications department by April 1, 2018. Entries can be received in hard copy or digitally (at least 300dpi). Send your submission to OECTA, 65 St. Clair East, Suite 400, Toronto, M4T 2Y8, attention: Communications Department or by email to Please include your unit and contact information with your entry.

Stressed, anxious or depressed? Go to:

Assess your mental health

View your action plan

Access your self-care toolbox

Resources in Your Toolbox include:

Helping Yourself

Stress Reduction

Helping Others



CALENDAR Deadline for Submitting AGM Resolutions


National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

10 International Human Rights Day Christmas Break Provincial Office closure





25 to Jan 7



Family Literacy Day

By Mark Tagliaferri

Recent events have brought violence against women to the forefront of the news agenda, but many still do not appreciate the extent of the crisis. Worldwide, more than one-in-three women (35 per cent) have experienced either physical or sexual violence, most often perpetrated by an intimate partner. As many as 750 million girls are married off before they are 18 years old.

• On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. • Two-thirds of Canadians say they have personally known at least one woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse. • On any given night in Canada, almost 3,500 women and more than 2,700 children sleep in shelters because it isn’t safe at home. • One in five Canadian women experience some form of emotional or economic abuse in their intimate relationship. • Annually, more than 425,000 Canadian women over the age of 15 report being sexually assaulted. • Almost 12 per cent of all police-reported violent crime in Canada is for spousal violence, with nearly 85 per cent of victims being women. • Aboriginal women in Canada are five times more likely than other women of the same age to die as the result of violence.

27 International Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust 31 to Winter Council of Presidents Feb 2 Meeting



This is a global pandemic; however, it is not isolated to developing countries. The statistics in Canada are sobering:




Deadline to submit Young Authors award entries


1 Billion Rising


Lunar New Year


Family Day


World Day of Social Justice


Pink Shirt Day

These numbers can be overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that behind every statistic and percentage point is a human being who is suffering some form of physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, or economic abuse. Each year, on December 6, Canada honours the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The date marks the anniversary of the 1989 massacre at École Polytechnique in Montreal, where 14 women were murdered, and another 10 injured (along with four men), by a gunman who was opposed to women’s rights. This commemoration follows the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, on November 25. The annual observance is organized by the United Nations and designed to raise awareness of the continued suffering of women around the world. In Ontario, there are a number of campaigns and initiatives that allow you to become involved with this critical issue. For a list of existing campaigns, check out a handy resource published by the City of Toronto:

Mark Tagliaferri is Communications Specialist in the Communications department at the OECTA Provincial Office.


EVENTS PROMOTING TEACHER HEALTH AND SAFETY Every fall the Association holds a series of health and safety regional workshops to provide an opportunity for teachers and health and safety representatives to discuss current challenges in the school workplace environment. This year, five regionals were held between October 11 and November 6, with almost 200 participants. The topics discussed at the workshops are determined by the previous year’s participants; this year, the discussions focused on violence in the workplace, sexual harassment, and mental wellness and the duty to accommodate. Participants reviewed in detail the results of the Association’s survey of members on violence experienced in their schools. They also discussed elements of the Ontario Health and Safety Act (OHSA) that pertain to violence, including teachers’ rights to know about and refuse unsafe work. With the passage of Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, 2016, participants discussed what constitutes workplace sexual harassment. They also considered employee rights and employer obligations in addressing sexual harassment. The conversation emphasized that workplace harassment needs to be understood and integrated as part of a larger effort to promote workplace psychological health. In the area of teachers’ mental health, participants looked at the possible signs of mental illness, how to support members with mental health issues, and the forms of workplace accommodation that are available.

FOUNDATIONAL LEADERSHIP TRAINING A fundamental requirement of any organization is the development of its future leadership. OECTA’s Leadership Training Program reflects our commitment to succession planning and to providing an opportunity for teacher-advocates and activists to gain skills and experience. Participants receive professional career development that prepares them to provide service to members and leadership at both the local and provincial levels. The program includes a year of foundational training followed by specialized training in areas of membership service. Training takes place over four days in one school year. On November 3 and 4, nearly 75 members took part in the first two days of foundational training. This year constitutes the seventh running of the Foundational Program. Participants attended sessions entitled Professional Relationships, Communications Fundamentals, Legislative Framework, and Catholic Teachers: Who We Are and What We Do. The second two days of training will take place in early April, where participants will engage in sessions titled ABC’s of Grievance Arbitration and Principles of Catholic Leadership. Four days of Specialized Program training will also be running this spring. If you are interested in participating in the Leadership Training Program next year, speak to your unit president and watch for notices regarding registration dates in late spring and early fall.





The past few months have seen a stunning number of natural disasters and human tragedies in Canada and around the world.

After a brief hiatus the PD Network is back!

As Catholic teachers, we are heartbroken by the suffering, and compelled to do what we can to assist. Since September, the Association has made the following financial contributions: • To the Canadian Red Cross, for relief efforts following the wildfires in British Columbia. • To the Education International Solidarity Fund, for hurricane relief in the Caribbean and flood relief in Bangladesh. • To Oxfam’s Royhingya Refugee Emergency Fund, in response to the violence and persecution in Myanmar.

NEW PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT “EXPERIENCE” FOR MEMBERS The Association is offering a new and unique learning opportunity for members through WebExperience. Launched this past September, these live, interactive, online PD sessions are offered in the evenings and are only one hour in length. Members can participate from anywhere there is an internet connection. This fall, 19 different sessions ran for Math Mondays and KinderExperience. More sessions will be added, with sessions on well-being coming in the New Year. Participants loved the convenience of being able to log in from home, and to interact and ask questions of the instructor. Missed a session? No problem! All sessions are recorded and posted to the Association website for members to view whenever is convenient for them. Visit in the For Your Career section to see the full list of session topics and dates. Sessions are limited to 25 live participants each and are filled on a first-come basis. All the login and technical details for connecting to the sessions are on the website.


The PD Network is a suite of workshops offered by the Association for members to further their knowledge and understanding in a variety of subject areas, including: classroom management; French; mathematics; First Nations, Métis, and Inuit education; and special education. The workshops explore a range of issues, such as inclusive classrooms; bullying prevention; classroom planning and management; facilitation skills; integration of technology; and mental health and wellness. There are 40 different workshops, in 13 subject areas, led by 21 different OECTA members who understand what matters to you – the classroom teacher. The workshops also look to incorporate the Catholic Graduate Expectations and promote our system where possible. Visit in the For Your Classroom section for the full list and descriptions. Workshops are delivered locally and must be requested through your unit office. Contact your unit president and ask them to bring a PD Network workshop to your community!

CATHOLIC EDUCATION FOUNDATION OF ONTARIO AWARDS The Catholic Education Foundation of Ontario held its annual Father Patrick Fogarty Awards Dinner on October 28. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the publicly funded Catholic education system and recognize some outstanding examples of students and leaders who are demonstrating our values. As always, the Association was well-represented, with President Liz Stuart and First Vice-President Warren Grafton among the attendees. This year, we were also sponsoring an award. The Michael Monk Award honours a school that has displayed a sustained commitment to student engagement, implementing innovative programs to improve student learning. This year’s recipient was Nicholson Catholic College (Algonquin-Lakeshore), for their “Spirit of Inclusion” project. Also included among the honourees was former Catholic teacher Greg Rogers, who was awarded the Medal of Honour. Five schools received Michael Carty Awards, and another four received R.J. McCarthy Awards, for projects that develop leadership skills while promoting social and environmental justice. One student from each Ontario Catholic high school received a Catholic Student Award, in recognition of their achievements and contributions.



“The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” These words from John 1:14, the opening passage of the Gospel of John, express the hope that Christians have in this often troubling world. It is at Christmas that we especially call to mind this sign of hope: God is not an abstraction, nor an impersonal force, but accompanies us on our earthly journey. Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” Pope Francis often speaks of the importance of accompaniment. We need to accompany one another, caring for others, and offering assistance – or simply being a non-intrusive loving presence, which may be what is most needed. In the Book of Job, the hero is most helped by the simple presence of his friends, who share with him his experience of suffering. That is what compassion is: “to suffer with.” This is what we celebrate at Christmas. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, the second person of the Trinity did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself, and took on our human life, even to death, death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-11). God comes among us as a little baby, not as some mighty angel or overwhelming force. And Jesus grows in wisdom and grace, close to his family and friends in an ordinary human community, joining in the work, the joy, and the sorrow that is the stuff of life. That is God showing us how to live divinely on Earth, with the generous personal love that is at the center of the Trinity. If we do that, we are what we are meant to be. God does not intrude into human history, but comes quietly and unobtrusively, to accompany us, and to show us the way. We see this again after the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, when he walks with the discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34). He quietly comes up to them as they trudge into the darkness. He listens to their cares, and he teaches them that the meaning of life is found in the context of divine Providence. Later they spoke of this experience of education: did not our hearts burn within us, as he spoke to us on the way. And he challenged them, for they were going the wrong way. True love seeks the good of the one we love. When they had recognized him in the breaking of the bread, which recalls the sacramental experience of divine accompaniment in the Eucharist that Jesus has given us, they turned around and headed in the right direction, hurrying back joyfully to Jerusalem to spread the good news. The model of accompaniment is fundamental to Catholic education. Catholic educators are called to be attentively present to students (and to colleagues, parents, and everyone, for that matter). This means relating to others with a listening heart, following the good example of young King Solomon in the Old Testament, who prayed for that as he began his mission of leadership (I Kings 3: 3-14). Teachers often need the Wisdom of Solomon, and that wisdom begins with a listening heart that allows them to be reverently attentive to those whom they accompany on the educational journey. But if those entrusted to our care are being led down pathways that we know are destructive, true accompaniment does not mean facilitating that, but instead, with clarity and charity, and with the benefit of both faith and reason, helping those who trust us to find the right direction, in the imitation of Jesus accompanying the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus knew the way, and in fact called himself “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). So if Catholic educators are going to be trusty guides through this world’s highways and byways, they need to know the way, and live it, since our lives teach more powerfully than our words. This means a deep immersion in the Word of God and in the living faith of the Church, along with times each day for personal prayer and reflection, as well as a regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, since we all regularly lose our way, and need to get back on track. This is a bit like the safety video on an airplane adults should put on the oxygen mask first, in order to be able to help someone who depends on them. Students need guides and mentors to accompany them, teachers whom they can trust. We have all been blessed by teachers such as that, and it is a privilege to fulfil that sacred role.

Cardinal Thomas Collins Archbishop of Toronto



THE FALLING TOWER OF PISA Pearson and the erosion of public education By Mark Tagliaferri

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) casts a long shadow in global education. Administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), every three years roughly half a million 15-year-olds, from more than 70 countries around the world, are assessed in reading, mathematics, and science. Students also answer a series of – ungraded – background questions on things like learning habits, motivation, and family life, which the OECD uses to contextualize and compare data, as best as possible. Based on the results, education systems are either exalted on high, or plunged into the depths of crisis. Sometimes both, simultaneously – as is the case in Ontario, where, judging by newspaper headlines, we have one the best education systems in the world… but also are in the throes of a horrible math crisis that requires an overhaul of the entire curriculum! Certainly, many find merit in capturing a global snapshot of education systems, and seeing one system relative to others. That said, there are well-founded criticisms of PISA’s use of standardized testing, as it presents a narrow measure of achievement and never captures national differences in ways that truly allow for apples-to-apples comparisons. These are important and relevant discussions. However, they all tend to examine PISA from the same angle. It is sometimes helpful to step back, and take a different look. If you’ve ever toured Pisa – the city in central Italy – there’s a strong chance you visited the Leaning Tower. Many are surprised to learn that the infamous lean is not the result of a design flaw, but rather is because the tower is set in weak, unstable subsoil. In other words, it’s not the structure that causes the problem, it’s the foundation. It’s worth keeping this point in mind when thinking about PISA, the test. When the OECD launched PISA in 2000, and for a number years afterward, all aspects of test design, data collection, analysis, and report writing were entrusted to an international consortia of education experts. This group met in-person and via teleconference


to argue over the minutiae of survey development – question format and order, metrics, data definitions, and more. Say what you will about rankings tables, the OECD took care to maintain an objective and academic approach. Things have changed, however. In December 2014, after being lobbied for several years, the OECD announced that it had awarded a contract to Pearson, the largest private education company in the world. Starting with the 2018 test, Pearson will now be solely responsible for developing the entire framework for PISA. This is a terrifying proposition. With more than 30,000 employees in 80 countries, Pearson boasts annual gross sales that top $8 billion. The company produces everything from textbooks, test papers and preparation courses, to online learning materials and education software, and even has an in-house education consultancy outfit. More importantly, and dangerously, the company has also launched a full-fledged assault on public education. Some of their efforts are subtle and seemingly innocuous. For instance, in 2011 Pearson joined as a founding partner in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), a set of 17 “global goals” to be achieved by 2030. One of those goals is to “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.” However, when Pearson published and distributed its own version of SDG, it removed the word “free” from that particular objective. Other of their efforts are more transparent. Recently, Pearson bought into Bridge International Academies (BIA), a for-profit chain with hundreds of “schools” operating across the Global South. BIA’s model is built entirely around achieving economies of scale, and servicing an ever-increasing number of customers through “academy-in-a-box” style schools. This cookie-cutter style aligns perfectly with Pearson’s objectives. The company has no need – or desire, frankly – to employ qualified teachers who can adapt their methods and styles to meet students’ diverse learning needs.

Instead, each “educator” is provided a tablet with a pre-loaded script, synched with company headquarters to ensure identical pacing, monitoring, and tracking. According to BIA’s website, these teacher-computers provide “… step-by-step instructions explaining what teachers should do and say during any given moment of a class.” This is not an exaggeration. The script contains the following instructions: “163. If the pupil spells the word correctly, give him/her a cheer. 164. If the pupil spells the word incorrectly, call on another pupil to correct the spelling. 165. Wipe the board.” This sort of radical standardization, which Pearson sees as central to its edu-business model, serves to de-professionalize and undermine the teaching profession. It represents the very antithesis of the goals of public education.

picture. But we must try. The ground upon which we stand is not as stable as we might hope. If you get the chance to visit Pisa, take a moment to glance around as you approach the Leaning Tower; you will notice a curious phenomenon: all tourists tend to tilt their heads to the side. From that angle, the tower almost looks straight. But perhaps it is time that we adjust our heads and look again. When we do, we are able to see things for what they are. PISA is falling. And the real source of the problem, for test and tower, is what lies beneath. Mark Tagliaferri is Communications Specialist in the Communications department at the OECTA Provincial Office.

And now this company, with its singular focus on profitability and market-based approach to public policy, gets to decide what is measured in PISA. It will gain access to international data about students and teachers. Pearson will define success and failure, on a global scale. Education professor Dr. Anna Hogan puts the matter succinctly: “The fact that one company can have a monopoly of the global system, where it can run national and international tests, as well as mark the tests and report on them, and market materials on how to do well, is certainly cause for concern.” And if Pearson/PISA decides that your country doesn’t quite measure up, lo and behold Pearson Educational Consulting will be there to help. This infiltration of PISA has allowed Pearson to achieve horizontal and vertical integration. In the process, it has blurred the line that PISA initially established between commercial interests, on one hand, and neutral, trustworthy examinations of education systems, on the other. Quietly, and with little fanfare, Pearson is weakening the very foundations of public education. And what do OECD officials have to say about the matter? At the contract award announcement, head of the PISA initiative, Andreas Schleicher, was ecstatic: “PISA 2018 has the potential to be the start of a new phase of our international assessments.” Pearson CEO John Fallon would surely agree. In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to compartmentalize – we distribute textbooks that we assume have been independently vetted; we administer tests that we assume are objective assessments of student achievement; we employ learning tools that we assume are designed with students’ best interests at heart. It is sometimes difficult to see the bigger



THE RULES OF (POLITICAL) ENGAGEMENT Teacher activism in the 2018 provincial election By Mark Tagliaferri

The Ontario provincial election is scheduled for June 7, 2018. In previous years, this would have been the time when you would start to see attack ads and counter-attack ads flooding the airways, and political billboards would litter the landscape on your commute to work. Not so, this time. The government has changed the rules of political engagement. As you may recall, Bill 201 (later reintroduced as Bill 2, the Election Finances Statute Law Amendment Act) was originally proposed back in May 2016. This was the government’s response to a growing chorus of complaints that the Liberals (and PCs and NDP, to be fair) were engaging in dubious campaign tactics. Fundraising dinners that cost $10,000 per table led to accusations of wealthy Ontarians buying access to politicians; and politicians complained vehemently that third party ads were unfairly influencing voters (they were conspicuously quiet when ads worked in their favour, of course). Under the old system, all of this was perfectly legal. However, for many, it simply didn’t pass the “sniff test.” With accusations getting louder, and an election starting to appear beyond the horizon, the government moved quickly to slap together the election finances bill, which came into effect January 1, 2017. In many respects, the legislation mirrors changes already implemented at the federal level. The result has a significant impact on how organizations such as our Association are able to participate in the political process. Most notably: • Unions and corporations are banned from donating money to candidates, constituency associations, nomination contestants, and leadership contestants. • There are significant restrictions on third-party advertising – a third party can spend no more than $600,000 in the six-month period ahead of the official election period, and can spend no more than $100,00 during the official election period. • Unions and organizations can no longer fund release time and assign members to work on a campaign during work hours. 12 CATHOLIC TEACHER | DECEMBER 2017

The legislation has its weaknesses, and in the year and a half since it was introduced the rushed nature of the bill has become apparent. Parties have found a variety of creative ways to expose loopholes – such as wearing t-shirts with “DONATE” printed on them, to get around technical restrictions on soliciting donations. Meanwhile, the legislation’s vague language has left Elections Ontario uncertain of how to enforce the rules. During public hearings for the bill, the Chief Elections Officer questioned whether clamping down on “issues advertising” would violate freedom of expression laws. He confessed that potential infractions might have to be judged on a case-by-case, ad hoc basis. Yet despite all of the new rules and regulations, as well as uncertainness around enforcement, on an individual level, very little will impact your ability to participate in the political process. Yes, there are new contribution rules, which restrict individuals to the following: • A maximum of $1,200 to a political party each year. • An additional combined maximum of $1,200 to provincial constituency associations and nomination contestants. • An additional combined maximum of $1,200 to registered candidates during an official election period. If you do the math, in the 2018 election year an individual residing in Ontario can donate a maximum of $3,600 to a party/candidate(s) of their choice. Taking a longer view, over a four-year election cycle, a person can still contribute just shy of $11,000. But getting into the weeds of contribution limits almost misses the point. Teachers have the opportunity to play a fundamental role during elections – on an individual level, and in terms of motivating students to be active and aware citizens. Individually, there are a range of options to engage with the election, if you so choose. This can be as simple as putting out a lawn sign, or writing a $50 cheque (it’s worth noting that you qualify for the Political Contribution Tax Credit, which lets you claim 75 per cent of you donation’s value, up to $399).

If you want to be more actively involved, one thing that political parties need just as much as money is bodies. So if you want, volunteer for a candidate in your riding; take a Saturday morning and knock on doors, and help drive the discussion that ultimately drives the vote. In all of this, it’s critical to stay informed on the positions that candidates and parties take – particularly as they pertain to publicly funded education, and Catholic education specifically. Although official party platforms have, in some respects, become a thing of the past, there are still ways to parse candidates’ views. For instance, attend all-candidates meetings and ask questions. Be ready when a candidate shows up on your doorstep and ask about their party’s plan for Catholic schools in Ontario. And when assessing candidates, always consider: would this candidate best represent your personal and professional interests at Queen’s Park? You can also play a role within your classrooms. As teachers, you are ideally positioned to present, model, and discuss political action with your students. This does not necessarily have to mean advocating for a particular party; instead, you can use the election to help students understand the nature and consequences of political activity. You can act, as education

theorist Stephan Thornton describes, as “gatekeepers” for your students, introducing them to a world where political awareness and action makes a difference. Elections are more than referenda on politicians; they offer us the opportunity to exercise democracy, to stand up and be counted, to continue to transform society for the better. After all, as the saying goes, “every election is determined by the people who show up.” While the rules of engagement may have changed, we are still in the game, and each of us has the power to influence the final result.

Mark Tagliaferri is Communications Specialist in the Communications department at the OECTA Provincial Office.





s Catholic teachers, we strive every day to work with parents, trustees, and others in the community to instill in our students lessons and values that they will carry with them throughout their lives. This is the foundation for our Lessons for Life campaign, which is aimed at spreading the word about the benefit of a values-based Catholic education in today’s society. We are profoundly aware of the honour and privilege of teaching in a publicly funded Catholic school, and we do not take our responsibility lightly. But there are many who do not understand or appreciate our role. Here’s what I tell them…

the social and political arrangements that cause people to be oppressed, marginalized, or victimized in the first place.

Catholic teachers are known for our explicit Catholic worldview: that of the dignity of the human person, and of the inherent goodness in all creation. This view of humanity and of all creation drives us to promote equity and inclusivity in everything we do. We have a duty not only to teach about the common good, but to position the common good at the centre of the educational enterprise. Students are encouraged to look for the traits and qualities they share with one another, and to respect differences of gender, ethnicity, language, ability, family status, socio-economic background, or sexual orientation. We also teach that social justice is not satisfied by personal acts or private charity alone. Our responses to injustice must be realized at the structural level, so that we can change

As Catholic teachers, we are compelled to make clear that no one is beyond the care and embrace of God. The common good that lies at the heart of Catholic teaching presupposes the dignity of each person and requires that all be given the opportunity for a full and satisfying human life – food, clothing, health, work, education, culture, and the right to establish a family.

We have an enduring commitment to foster a spirituality for the times. The mission statements found in our Catholic schools speak of an education that is faith-filled, life-shaping, worldchanging, and inclusive of all. The basis for this endeavour is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose own mission on Earth shaped lives, changed the world, and explicitly included all – including the most despised and dispossessed around him.

While texts, computers, and other instruments augment the teaching of the curriculum, it is the classroom teacher who is the most critical resource for students. We advocate for proper working and learning conditions, ensuring that we are able to nurture a love of learning and a sense of compassion for humanity and the environment. We engage in ongoing


professional learning to ensure that we have the tools needed to view the Ontario curriculum through the lens of Catholic social teachings, and to help students understand the most painful and controversial social issues of our time: poverty, alienation, war, environmental degradation, and more. Catholic teachers know that learning is about more than knowledge and skills, more than rubrics and exemplars. Learning is a social activity. Students need a compass to help them address the issues that divide people and weaken community – including behaviours such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, which can rob children and young people of any hope in the future. The dimension of a shared faith helps students learn to critique the world and their lives in an informed way, inspired by forgiveness and love – no matter where this questioning leads them. Such discussions frequently involve spirited critiques of the Church itself. As in all areas of the curriculum, Catholic teachers create a fertile environment that enables and nurtures critical thinking. Our role is not to narrow the path our students take, but rather to break everything open so that there will be nothing automatic in students’ responses to Church teaching. While there is a popular misconception that certain topics regarding marriage, divorce, genetic engineering, sexual

orientation, and ecological theology are not discussed in the Catholic classroom, in reality we would fall victim to the null curriculum if these topics were avoided. Catholic teachers regularly consult with each other, and with others in the education community, to develop the confidence and leadership skills required to openly address these issues, with the aim of building inclusive schools and classrooms. We understand that our schools must provide a safe, loving environment for all students, including those who identify as LGBTQ, some of whom would rather engage in self-destructive activities than claim their whole identity. Overall, Catholic teachers understand that no group or community is perfect, and that human identity is fluid. It is our job to convey Church teachings, certainly, but in doing so it is our goal to accompany that teaching with knowledge of the unconditional love of God, lived out fully in the life of Jesus Christ. This is what it means to be a Catholic teacher, and this is why Catholic education remains as important today as it was two hundred years ago.

Shannon Hogan is a member of the Counselling and Member Services department at the OECTA Provincial Office.




New tool makes changes to student financial assistance clearer By Mark Tagliaferri

The June 2017 issue of (the magazine formerly known as) @OECTA featured an article titled, “It costs me, it costs me not.” The piece detailed some of the changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), including why the government chose to make those changes and what it might mean to students in terms of access and affordability. As reported, some of the main changes to OSAP include: • Providing net-zero tuition for Ontario students whose parents earn less than $50,000 a year. • Repackaging grants and various subsidies, and distributing that grant at the time tuition is due. • Providing greater access to grants for mature and married students. • Allowing students to see financial aid decisions once they receive an acceptance to a post-secondary institution. The key point is that rather than infusing OSAP with new money, the government instead focused mostly on repackaging the financial aid that already exists, making it easier for students and parents to understand what they are entitled to. This change may lead to greater numbers of students perceiving that they can afford post-secondary education and thus more students attending.

The government’s commitment to clarifying and simplifying financial assistance is also evident in a recently launched companion tool: the OSAP calculator. The online calculator helps students and their families find out quickly and easily whether they qualify for student loans, grants, and other supports from the province. Students answer a series of short questions, which takes about 5-10 minutes; based on the responses, students can see right then and there how much government aid they will receive. To use the calculator, students need only have the following information on hand: • School and program student will attend • Dates the program will begin and end • Tuition and book costs • How much money the student plans to earn during the school year • Parents’ annual income Of course, the amount of aid for which students are eligible will depend on their profile and their answers to the calculator questions. Below are a couple student profiles, and what those profiles would result in, based on the student aid calculator.

It will take more time and data to flesh out if this is true over the long term. But early indications are positive. In the first year of the revamped OSAP, applications for financial aid are up by more than 15 per cent from last year. And the increase in applications to post-secondary institutions is nearly double that of the previous year’s increase.

It is fair to infer that the OSAP changes, which have made student financial assistance clearer and easier for students to understand, are at least partially responsible for these increases.

With the introduction of the OSAP calculator, financial aid information is now available to students and parents earlier and clearer than ever before. As a result, families will be able to make more informed decisions about attending post-secondary education, and will have a more realistic understanding of the costs of attending university or college. And if this improves access and participation, then the OSAP calculator will add up to success.

Mark Tagliaferri is Communications Specialist in the Communications department at the OECTA Provincial Office.


Catholic teachers are awesome! Each and every day, Catholic teachers have an amazing impact on students and communities across Ontario. We teach more than math, science, and reading. Through our lessons, the values we promote, like respect, empathy, and resilience, help prepare our students for the ultimate test – life. Lessons for Life is about sharing the incredible stories and impact of Catholic teachers with all Ontarians. Tell us about an awesome Catholic teacher you know who is delivering “lessons for life.”

Write to us at: DECEMBER 2017 | CATHOLIC TEACHER




You should have recently received a new Legal Assistance for Members card from the Association – the latest edition of what is often referred to as the Caution Card. (If you did not receive a card, call your local unit to request one.) The card provides advice and direction in the event that you are being investigated by the police, the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT), and/or your school board. Most importantly, it provides language you can use to avoid discussing details with any of the above entities (or anyone else for that matter) until you are able to connect with your local OECTA unit office, Provincial Office staff, or OECTA’s legal counsel. The importance of this cannot be understated, because even seemingly innocent or innocuous comments can be misperceived and used against you. You are encouraged to keep the card with you so you have access to it at all times. It can be quite a shock when CAS shows up at your school asking questions in relation to a complaint laid against you or a colleague – you will want to make sure you are prepared! Providing legal assistance is an integral part of the work of the Association. For every member, 0.12 per cent of grid salary is directed to the Member Protection Fund, which covers the cost of defending members who encounter legal issues in the course of their professional duties. In this sense, the fund, and by extension your union dues, is like malpractice insurance for members. Think this will never apply to you? The Association spends more than $3 million per year on legal fees. From September 1, 2016 to August 31, 2017, the Association opened 161 new legal cases, bringing the total number of active cases to 406. Of those cases, 65 per cent dealt with CAS or police, and another 32 per cent dealt with OCT.


Accessing legal services

The provision of legal services to members is outlined in the OECTA Handbook (sections 2.182 to 2.185 in the 2017-18 edition). The Association provides a range of services, from advice to legal representation, depending on the situation. The Association provides legal assistance to members when the issue in question directly relates to their teaching duties or employment. The activities in question may have taken place at the member’s location of employment or off school property at a school- or board-sanctioned event. There may also be cases in which the allegations against the member stem from their activities outside of teaching, but are connected to, or are now affecting, their role or employment as a teacher. For investigations involving the police, CAS, and OCT, the Association employs legal counsel to provide advice and representation. Counsel is also available for long-term disability appeals, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board appeals, watching briefs for civil suits, and human rights complaints. The provision of legal counsel is limited to the specific parameters outlined in the Handbook, and is at the discretion of the Provincial Executive.


The provision of legal counsel is granted by the Provincial Executive. To access legal services, members must first make contact with a Staff Officer in the Counselling and Member Services department at Provincial Office, who will provide advice and direction. Ultimately, the Provincial Executive will determine whether legal counsel will be provided. Restrictions to legal support

Legal support granted by the Provincial Executive may be restricted in scope. For example, legal support to a member may be limited or discontinued if the member is unwilling to follow advice of OECTA-retained lawyers as to the appropriate conduct of the case, including the resolution of the case. Legal support will be denied to members who are found guilty of sexual assault. This policy is not outlined in the Handbook, but was established at the June 2000 Provincial Executive meeting, where it was approved that “OECTA will not provide legal counsel to assist members at the College of Teachers in matters in which members were found guilty of sexual assault.”

In practice, the Provincial Executive has expanded the scope of this policy to include members who are convicted of criminal charges for all sexually related offences against students/ minors. If a criminal conviction for a sexually related offence is handed down while a complaint is ongoing at the OCT, the Provincial Executive will withdraw support for legal assistance in the OCT case. New practices for benefits fraud

The Provincial Executive recently approved a policy with regard to members who are facing allegations of benefits fraud against either the OECTA Benefits Plan or the OECTA Occasional Teachers Benefit Plan (governed by the Employee Life and Health Trust). If an allegation of fraud is made against a member by the Trust, Association support to that member will be limited to staff advice to that member until the matter is referred to the police or the courts. Further, the Association will not provide legal assistance to a member involved in a civil and/or criminal court proceeding that arises from fraud of the Trust. Nor will the Association provide legal assistance to a member for a proceeding that is before the OCT that arises from a conviction or court-approved agreement regarding fraud of the Trust. However, if a member is charged but not convicted, or reaches a resolution with the Trust before the initiation of any criminal or civil action, the Association will provide legal representation before the OCT. Always remember

As with any malpractice insurance, we always hope that you will never need it. However, in the unlikely event that you find yourself in a difficult situation as a result of your professional duties, it is reassuring to know that OECTA’s legal assistance will be there to provide you with the necessary supports. Just keep your Caution Card handy! Joe Pece is Department Head in the Counselling and Member Services department at the OECTA Provincial Office.




OECTA’S PROVINCIAL LTD PLAN What you need to know about cancelling your long-term disability coverage By Mary Lachapelle Most members are in a highly vulnerable financial position when they are confronted with a loss of income during a lengthy or permanent disability. The OECTA provincial long-term disability (LTD) insurance plan provides a safety net that will replace a percentage of your salary and provide pension plan protection if you are unable to work because of an illness or injury. This being said, it is possible to terminate your LTD coverage, in which case you will no longer have premiums deducted from your pay. Three scenarios

There are three scenarios in which you might be able to cancel your LTD insurance: 1) You are eligible for a 66 per cent unreduced service pension,

or will be within the latter of either: the next 100 working days, or the expiration of your sick leave credits.

• To qualify for an unreduced pension you must have the “85 factor,” meaning your age and years of qualifying service add up to 85. • To qualify for a 66 per cent unreduced pension, you must meet the above criteria with 33 years of credited service.

2) You have reached the end of the month in which you turned 65,

or you will reach the end of the month in which you will turn 65 within the latter of either: the next 100 working days, or the expiration of your sick leave credits.

3) Your retirement date is within the next 100 working days, and

you have notified both the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and your school board.

66 per cent unreduced service pension, or you reach the end of the month following your 65th birthday (as long as you were not receiving Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan benefits). You might have sound reasons for cancelling your LTD coverage and discontinuing your premium payments, but you should carefully consider your options. You likely do not want to be in a situation where you are unable to work and are not receiving sufficient income. Also note that coverage cannot be cancelled retroactively. If you wish to terminate your LTD coverage, you should complete an Application for Coverage Termination. Submit the completed application to your local OECTA unit office at least two months prior to the desired cancellation date to ensure the board stops deducting LTD premiums on time. Be sure to include the required supporting documentation. Your LTD benefits plan is sponsored by OECTA Provincial and administered by the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP). Please do not call your school board for assistance; direct any questions to your local OECTA unit office. What is OTIP?

The Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP) is a not-for-profit insurance advocate that is part of the education community. OTIP is governed, led and inspired by the four education affiliates and their local leaders. OTIP’s products and services include a full range of group and individual insurance from your group benefit plans and long-term disability coverage to individual insurance products such as your home and auto coverage.

Eligible until retirement

You should know that you are not required to terminate your LTD coverage simply because you have notified your board of your intention to retire. You are still eligible for coverage up to the date of your retirement, and you the have the right to make a claim if you become disabled prior to this date. If approved, LTD benefits would be payable until: you recover, you become eligible for a


Mary Lachapelle is a member of the Counselling & Member Services department at OECTA Provincial Office. n The information for this article was provided by the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan. To learn more, visit




One of the things I enjoy most about being the parent of a young child is the different perspective that my son brings to every experience. The more I experience life with my child, the more I see how, as an adult, I have come to see the world and its workings in a particular way – and how differently he sees things. As he learns and grows, so do I! Christmas, with all its tradition and splendour, has proven to be a particularly illuminating time, showing a dramatic difference in mindset. Here are three great lessons I learned last Christmas that have translated into so many other areas of my life. Lesson 1 – Less is More

Last year my son had just turned two when Christmas rolled around. He didn’t understand the tree, the decorations, or the gifts. He certainly didn’t understand Santa or the Nativity scene. But he knew there was something different and special going on. As the presents piled up under the tree, almost all with his name on them, he started to get excited. When Christmas morning came we gathered his gifts and eagerly waited for him to rip them open. Of course, he had no idea what to do, so we had to give him a hand with the unwrapping. The look of excitement on his face as the first gift was exposed was priceless! He was overjoyed with the new Paw Patrol gizmo and started to play with it right away. It took 20 minutes for us to tear him away to open the next gift. He was almost as excited to open the second gift, yet another Paw Patrol thingamajiggy. By the time the third present came along, he was getting annoyed that we kept pulling him away from his brand new toy. And forget about presents four, five, and six – he wasn’t interested. It struck me that this was the

law of diminishing returns in action. The more he received, the less wonder and amazement we saw in his reaction. Indeed, the less value each item had to him. Sometimes more is less, and bigger is not better. Neither the quantity nor the dollar value of the gift is what matters. It’s about the thoughtfulness behind the giving, and the pure joy it brings to the person receiving it. Lesson 2 – Life is Wonderment

Lesson 3 – Life Needs Magic

I really struggled with the idea of taking my son to meet Santa Claus, and having him buy into this mythical man and his story. Santa is not the reason we celebrate this holiday and I didn’t want him playing the starring role. I was also hesitant about introducing the idea of the “Christmas list” – the long and lengthy list of everything material (i.e. toys) my son’s heart desires.

Last Christmas, I also took my son to the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, where we saw a giant Swarovski crystal tree. I thought it was impressive and I mused that the mall officials had really outdone themselves. My son thought the tree was pretty and sparkly too. Interestingly thought, he was more impressed with the popcorn garland on our tree. He studied that popcorn intently, wondering how it was connected, and when he could eat it. We also saw the famous store windows at the Bay, which were decorated with a variety of animals that mechanically moved about the window. He loved the animals, but I thought I had seen better windows in the past. His wonderment of the window animals and the garland reminded me that even the simple things are amazing.

But as I watched the kids in line waiting for their turn to see Santa, I was reminded about how magical he and his story are. The children were so excited they could barely contain themselves – and the lineup was almost two hours long! More than just the promise of gifts, Santa Claus embodies creativity, imagination, and hope. And while the realism and logic we gain as we grow older are important, it is also important to maintain a sense of fun and frivolity in our lives – to be light, and not always so serious. So while I may no longer believe in the jolly bearded man, I can still believe in the spirit of love and generosity that he embodies.

We see things so often that we become numb to their impact, unless there is something newer, bigger, or better to behold. Big trees and little trees, fancy decorations or simple ones, it makes no difference – they are all amazing simply because they exist. And our tree is special because it is ours. Too often we are simply not present, which robs us of the ability to truly appreciate and be in the wonderment of life.

Christmas, most especially, is a time when the wonderment of life abounds. But we often miss it because we are too stressed about the added responsibilities that the holiday season brings. It’s a season made for lightness, fun, and joy – for kindness and generosity of spirit. This holiday, be intentional about taking time soak in the all the beauty and magic of the season.

Christmas truly is a magical time, and I believe we could use more of this magic all year long.

Michelle Despault is Director in the Communications department at the OECTA Provincial Office.





The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). While the Advent season is a time of reflection, anticipation, and renewal, the Christmas season is a time of joy, awe, and of the humbling reality of the Word made flesh _ God being figuratively and literally among us in the world. As we know from many historical studies, the Roman feast of Saturnalia, the celebration of Hanukkah (the miracle of the sanctuary light remaining lit for eight days without oil), and all pagan festivals of the winter solstice occur in this identical time of year. The symbol of light figures prominently in all of these celebrations, as the earth moves from the darkest days of the year, to a daily increasing of light in the world. While I understand the conceptualization of darkness as a time of vague obscurity in life, I have never fully subscribed to this idea. To me, darkness is not only necessary, but it is an essential part of the entry into the depths of spirituality. As human beings, we use darkness to create obscurity in order to see. Think of the most intimate moments of life: a sleeping newborn infant, a romantic dinner, a declaration of love, or intimacy with a loved one. These are often done or experienced with our surroundings dimly lit _ night light, candlelight, and so on. It seems that when we anticipate or create the possibility for the sacred to occur, we surround ourselves with darkness, so that all that remains is the one singular point of this profoundly sacred moment. In all of this, we make our world small. With this shift in our thinking about darkness, we also shift our thinking about Advent. In this context, it would appear that as we enter into and celebrate the season of Advent, we embark on a communal dimming of the outside world. A participatory obscurity that is at the core of the sacred, and of Advent.

One of my favourite poems, written by John Donne, reflects clearly this idea. He writes, “Churches are best for prayer that have least light. To see God only, I go out of sight.� So, in this Advent season, as we wait in longing for the Beloved, we are ourselves beloved. As we dim the ambient light in our world, we see more clearly than ever before. We prayerfully, quietly, and communally obscure the immediate and reveal the eternal. We make our world small.

Shannon Hogan is a member of the Counselling and Member Services department at the OECTA Provincial Office.


PHOTO: @ibragimova /

We begin with one lit candle on the Advent wreath. It is a direct encounter with the obscurity we require to see the one sacred thing awaiting us.



Tia Duke empowers students through diversity By Mark Tagliaferri

Tia Duke, from Dufferin-Peel’s St. Marguerite d’Youville Secondary School, was recently selected as a Toronto Star Teacher of the Year finalist, for her efforts to infuse diversity into her classroom materials. But if Duke’s mission succeeds, diversity in classroom lessons won’t need to be singled out at all – they will simply become part of the everyday school experience. “To me,” Duke explains, “success would be no longer having cycles where ‘diversity’ is the hot topic. I remember it was a big deal back in 2005. And then again in 2010. And now we’re talking about it again in 2017. I want students to sit in a class and read diverse texts from around the world, and have conversations about those people’s real experiences, all as part of a ‘normal’ school day.” In Duke’s mind, engaging diversity is a form of empowerment. These twin forces converged at an early stage in her life. Duke attended high school during the late-1990s, a period rife with political battles in education. It was then that Tia’s religion teacher, Mr. Giudice, ignited a spark in her, and challenged her to find her voice. “[Mr. Giudice] taught us leadership, risk taking, and the need to make a change in the world,” Duke says. “Without saying who or what to support, he provided us examples of people who stood up, and made their voices heard. He explained that Catholics have a duty to stand up for marginalized people, and fight for social justice.” Just as Tia was feeling this sense of empowerment, she came to a second realization: the course materials she interacted with didn’t reflect her lived experiences as an African-Canadian. “I couldn’t articulate it at the time,” Duke recalls, “but it was during teachers’ college that I found the ability to vocalize why I wanted to become a teacher.” Tia realized how she could affect positive change.

Once Tia decided that diversity would be central to her pedagogy, the rest came naturally. “I started including writing pieces that I liked, by authors who happened to come from diverse backgrounds.” Soon after, Tia found a list of texts that were considered “classic literature” in different countries. The list reinforced for Tia that what we consider “classic” is regionally and ethnically contingent. Tia started drawing from that list when populating reading assignments. “Be open to changing your lens,” she says. “The rest will follow.” Tia admits that change comes slowly, and she knows that her students are asked to engage with challenging texts. She chuckles as she describes some students who look uncomfortable when discussing the materials, but her tone becomes more serious as she continues. “[Students] are uncomfortable because they’re afraid,” she says. “Fear is what prevents us from progress. I know that some of the conversations I have with students will make them uncomfortable. But that’s the whole point of education! I want to reach a place where we can have open discussions without being fearful.”

reflected in the curriculum. As for her inspiration, Tia goes back to a lesson she learned from Mr. Giudice. “We forget that Jesus pushed the status quo. It’s easy for us in positions of privilege to be comfortable. Jesus challenged that comfort – he included all sorts of people who were considered ‘outsiders.’ And by doing that he challenges us to include those who are marginalized or oppressed. Catholicism asks us ‘how we can do better and be better?’ Jesus is the best exemplar of the need for diversity.” As a young student, Tia Duke may have struggled to articulate her purpose and her passion, but she has most certainly found her voice. And now she is helping the next generation of students find theirs. Mark Tagliaferri is Communications Specialist in the Communications department at the OECTA Provincial Office.

Tia feels vindicated by those who return from college or university to visit her. “Some of my best moments are when [students] come back, and they’ve made connections from things in books we’ve read to things they’re now experiencing in their own lives.” In all of this, Tia is quick to note that she is not alone. “The staff, the administration, everyone is so passionate and open to pushing for diversity,” she says. “Teachers see the value.” In this sense, she explains, “I’m just trying to build on the fantastic foundation that was already here.” Tia has become an inspiration for her students, especially racialized students who are now better able to see themselves DECEMBER 2017 | CATHOLIC TEACHER 23


TEACHING IS TRULY UNIVERSAL My life-changing experience in Uganda with Project Overseas By Angie Shura


was selected by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association to represent both them and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation in Mbale, Uganda during the summer of 2017.

It was daunting at first. I mean, you’re applying to spend your summer away from home, working in a foreign land (which, okay, is incredibly cool – but yes, you are working!), and with a bunch of strangers to boot. Yet Project Overseas truly provides the opportunity of a lifetime to make new and likeminded friends, to meet incredibly inspiring human beings from Canada and around the world, and to explore our own understanding of what it means to be a professional educator in an ever-connected, global context. We received a warm, enthusiastic welcome from our Ugandan brothers and sisters at the Ugandan National Teachers’ Union (UNATU). It was at their headquarters where we all first met with our respective co-tutors for this wonderful adventure; and where we were greeted with songs and touching speeches. Our days began by boarding our van to wind down the red roads to Nyondo Core Primary Teachers’ College, and ended with us boarding our van at 6 p.m. to go back to our hotel, which was followed by dinner and a debrief. Each week, I had

Angie with the Project Overseas Uganda participants


three two-hour numeracy/mathematics sessions to plan with my co-tutor, Joseph, and each session that we ran was delivered to three separate groups over the course of the week. We repeated this for two weeks, seeing a total of 160 participants – primary teachers and principals combined – during our time in Mbale. Each Canadian team member and Ugandan co-tutor were responsible for covering different subject areas, as well as helping to organize a fun “cultural night” for all participants. As I try to describe my experience, words nearly fail me. I feel as though I could use every word in the thesaurus in trying to convey the warmth, intelligence, drive, and joy of the people that we met and worked with during our two weeks, and I still would never quite capture all that I experienced or felt. Uganda reminded me that teaching is truly universal. Whether we have 20 or 120 pupils in our classrooms, we as teachers around the world will always be striving to work together, and worrying about those seemingly never-ending lists relating to current resources, attendance, parental engagement, differentiated instruction, assessment and evaluations, balancing our own lives while maintaining our own mental health, and finding ways to allow each and every one of our learners to shine, both as students and as human beings. As much as I “focused” on math in Mbale, we were all focused on the common good, and looking to find ways to make each child know that they matter – and that is a beautiful thing. I cannot thank my Ugandan hosts enough for so passionately and clearly reminding me of that. I am back in Canada now, and some things just feel... different. To think I may never see my co-tutor Joseph again – he who finished my sentences with such eloquence, and offered such thoughtful insights about the world – makes my heart twinge. Stepping into my comparatively cavernous classroom, with its wall of bright windows and shelves of ready-made materials, makes me catch my breath. Not even all of Canada has such riches; I know that I am blessed. I miss my daily debriefs and laughs with my team, and seeing the red sun rise and set on

Mt. Elgon. I will forever be grateful that we independently signed up for a small, end-of-trip/post-Project safari together before returning home to Canada. We may have started as only a team, yet we ended as fast friends. I will also be forever grateful to OECTA and CTF for all of their support along this adventure of mine. The words of our morning song still ring clearly in my head: “Solidarity forever… for the union makes us strong.” Angie Shura is an elementary teacher and kid at heart from Kenora, Ontario.




In August 2017, I travelled with a small group of volunteers to Linares, in central Mexico, to volunteer at a faith-based orphanage as part of Possibilities House For Children (PHFC). Founded by Rick and Lisa Bursey, PHFC is a not-for-profit organization that specializes in providing humanitarian aid for children. The organization’s mission is to rescue at-risk and abandoned children, and help to restore their lives by providing a “family-style” non-institutional home, as well as food, basic healthcare, and education. The objective is to redeem these children’s sense of hope, and give them faith that they too have a future with limitless possibilities. PHFC founders Rick and Lisa spent six years working in the community with government workers and local citizens to build the infrastructure, which ultimately allowed them to open the new orphanage project in Linares. I arrived in Linares ready to work, and to live my faith by helping those who are less fortunate. Although we were there for only a short time, during that time our group was determined to help in any way possible. We ended up completing an impressive and diverse number of tasks to assist the children and staff of PHFC’s orphanage project. Some of our work involved improving the infrastructure, so that the children had a clean and fun place to stay. For instance, we helped to build an office at the orphanage, we built a walkway, fixed the roof, painted a fence, and cleaned the storage area. Even more rewarding was the time we got to spend with the people of Linares. Venturing out, we visited remote villages in

the surrounding regions, where we delivered donations that we had collected for some of the poorer people in central Mexico. Over the course of the week, some of my favourite moments were spent playing with the children, and sharing our faith. We even got to participate in a faith march. On our day off, we travelled to a spectacular waterfall… and yes, did some shopping in the city. Before I left, some of my friends asked why I was taking time from my much-deserved summer break to volunteer with PHFC. My answer was perhaps a bit surprising. In addition to helping others, I felt a sense of duty to model my faith for my students, and show them that we are called by God to make a difference. To me, this is what makes being a Catholic teacher so special. Every day, we have the ability to live our faith, and I truly believe it is an honour to be able to instill our students with a sense of volunteerism, and help them to understand that we can make the world a better place. Though I spent only a short time in Linares, the experience had a profound impact on me. I left feeling not only a sense of pride, but also determination to continue working for social justice. I encourage you to promote volunteerism in your own schools, whether it be a bigger mission trip or something on a smaller scale, like volunteering at the local soup kitchen. If you’re interested in learning more about Possibilities House For Children and the different ways you can help, please visit Sometimes it takes only a small leap of faith to make a lifetime of difference. Lisa Beganyi is Curriculum Chair Business & Technology at Holy Trinity CSS with the PVNC Catholic District School Board.

Lisa, back row, with other volunteers, children, and employees of Possibilities House.


THE GRACE OF MOTHERHOOD A Christmas reminder By Laurie Azzi

The mother in the Nativity is an ordinary girl named Mary. Her story is extraordinary. I am certain you know it. One day, while at the well in Nazareth, the angel Gabriel appeared, telling Mary that she would soon carry a son, named Jesus. He would be the Son of God. Though fearful and apprehensive, Mary, holding faith in God, was a model of strength and humility. Later, Mary and her husband Joseph travelled to Bethlehem. Heavy with child, she rode on the back of a donkey. There, with no place to stay, the couple took shelter in a stable, where her precious infant was born. Above, the Star of Bethlehem shined ​brightly i​ n the sky, beckoning shepherds and wise men to the manger. The manger birth of our Lord heralded by the star, defined Mary as the Universal Mother of Humanity. A humble example

of the faith, commitment, courage and deep love associated with motherhood. Mary modeled selfless nurturance and defense while caring for and aiding her child. Filled with God’s Grace, Mary was gentle in her approach, a Divine example of motherly love. The Mother of all Mothers, she was ordinary and extraordinary. Her interactions with her son were ordinary. Her worries and concerns similar to the concerns of all mothers. Yet, her motherhood was extraordinary, in that she was raising the Son of God. At times, Mary undoubtedly wept with joy, felt deep sorrow and apprehension. With strength and conviction, she stood firm in support of her son. Imagine the overwhelming powerlessness she must have felt as her son was persecuted, whipped and mocked. As she watched him carry the Cross and die a long, agonizing death. Standing at the foot of the Cross, storms raging, she was his mother – filled with love and compassion for her only son. As he suffered, she suffered. In the Holy Gospel, Saint Luke writes: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (2:19) Like Mary, we mothers carry our children’s burdens, joys, and sorrows in our hearts. We are guided by faith and sustained by hope.

As mothers, we often walk alongside our children. We may wish to help them bear their burdens. Sometimes, we too must simply look on at the foot of their own crosses and pray for intercession.

This Christmas, as I pause, I see more clearly than ever before that Mother Mary is my gentle guide and spiritual Mother. That I am her child. She intercedes and directs me during times of darkness. Over the years, and many Christmases, I have come to see mothers as our first teachers. Making sacrifices. Giving deep devotion. Tirelessly shaping and guiding their children’s lives. This Christmas, as my students and I focus on the Nativity scene, I will look at the young mother. My first teacher, great guide, and representative of the grace of motherhood, strength of womanhood, and the ability to walk on despite the doubt, fear, and obscure path ahead. For some students, especially those with exceptional needs, the path ahead can be daunting, oftentimes obscure. For some, pressures of life and home can be untold during the holiday season. Mary provides a lesson on trusting God’s will, pondering all things in our heart, and seeing what is truly possible through the eyes of Faith. And she reminds us that sometimes we must walk forward, trusting what we cannot see. Finding God’s presence within us. In this way, my students and I will experience the blessing of Mary and the beauty of the Nativity. And carry it in our hearts all year long.

Merry Christmas to all. Laurie Azzi is a Learning Strategies teacher with the Ottawa Catholic District School Board.


PHOTO: @udra11 /

This Christmas, take a moment to view the Nativity scene. Consider the young mother there, her husband by her side. See her kneeling on a sparse layer of hay Her newborn son, the object of her loving gaze.


SHARING IS NOT CARING The sharing economy is shaking things up, not always for the better By Adam Lemieux


n the surface, the so-called sharing economy is nothing but cool and convenient. Need a ride? The Uber app enables you to quickly request a driver willing to take you in their private car, then automatically charges your credit card. Have a to-do list longer than your arm? For a fee, TaskRabbit will hook you up with a jack-of-alltrades who works on your schedule. Hotel prices hampering your wanderlust? Through AirBnB, you can rent someone’s house, condo, cottage, bedroom, or yurt at a fraction of the cost. Need some design help? Check Fiverr. Vacuuming? Try Cleanify. Kennelling? DogVacay has options galore. To read the promotional materials for these companies, or to see them relayed in popular media, you would also get the idea that in the sharing economy, everybody benefits: the buyer gets easy access to something they desire; the seller earns some income from their idle time, talent, or property; and the entrepreneurs who connect the demand to the supply make financial gain, while garnering acclaim as market disruptors. With the coming-of-age of a millennial generation that insists on freedom, efficiency, and innovation, these are imagined as ideal arrangements for our times. However, the emergence of the sharing economy has triggered significant questions about the future of our society and economy, and the adequacy of our existing standards and regulations. These debates are related to – indeed, are the extension of – the discussions about precarious employment that have been ongoing for the past few years. While we understand the motivations of people looking for new sources of income or lower costs of living, what are the possible consequences? At what point do we cross the line from hobby to business, from flexibility to exploitation, from sharing to circumventing the law?

What’s in a name?

Part of the difficulty in wrapping our heads around these issues is that the terminology can be misleading. “Sharing economy” seems an innocent enough descriptor, but the more we think about the mechanics of the interactions, the more apparent it becomes that there is not much sharing going on – the person using the good or service is paying for the privilege, the person supplying it is receiving some remuneration, and the company facilitating the transaction is taking quite a bit out of the middle. Uber may claim that it is just a technology company whose app enables people to make links between one another, but upon closer inspection, the drivers look a lot like employees, and the riders a lot like customers.


A plethora of alternative labels have attempted to better capture the nature of this relationship – boosters have offered “collaborative economy,” detractors have come up with “gig economy,” others have suggested the “on-demand service economy,” the Harvard Business Review recommends “access economy,” and the United States Department of Commerce uses the more technocratic “digital matching firms.” But no matter which term we choose, it is crucial to understand that the business model we are referring to is usually just straight-up capitalism. This is a problem. Capitalism left to its own devices will destroy anything that might block the pursuit of selfish gains, so we have long recognized that public policy is needed to harness profit motives for the common good. Unfortunately, policymakers have struggled to agree on how to deal with the sharing economy. These companies practice what is known as “regulatory entrepreneurship,” entering the market and growing aggressively until they are seen as too big and essential to be banned. Sunil Johal of Ontario’s Mowat Institute has likened regulatory efforts to a game of whack-a-mole, as the slow-moving machinery of government is unable to keep up with the brazen, nimble entities that keep appearing in new forms, with new justifications. Also, some policymakers believe these businesses are positive responses to the scarcities inherent in the modern economy; they are loathe to be seen as standing in the way of progress, defending antiquated modes of production. The result is an incredibly uneven playing field, as well as loads of negative externalities. Take AirBnB, for example. In order to provide a service that is attractive to consumers and lucrative to suppliers, the model depends

on ignoring or avoiding a large body of regulations to which legitimate businesses must adhere: zoning by-laws, tax rules, tenancy and condo rules, employment and labour standards, and health and safety standards. Furthermore, as FairBnB – a coalition including the hospitality worker’s union Unite Here!, as well as a number of tenants’ rights organizations – has shown, the main beneficiaries are relatively well-off property owners, with more than half of listings in Toronto being offered by owners who advertise multiple properties on the website. This goes well beyond the benign notion of the friendly hosts who, while out of town visiting family, help a cash-strapped tourist by lending out their vacant apartment. On the contrary, these are often well-organized, commercially minded, revenue-generating operations. Meanwhile, the ability of some wealthy owners to rent out their properties in short-term arrangements, and even to gobble up additional properties, reduces the supply of long-term rental options for low- and middle-income residents. In other cases, there is the issue of the normalization of workers being considered “independent contractors,” and going without the protections afforded by minimum wages and employment standards. In a survey of Greater Toronto Area residents by the Ontario office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), 41 per cent of respondents who had worked in the sharing economy cited low pay as one of their biggest challenges. Customer disputes, unpredictable work hours, and a lack of benefits or paid sick days were other major concerns. Moreover, independent contractors are responsible for managing all of their income tax, Canada Pension Plan, and Employment Insurance contributions. This is often poorly understood and not closely followed, which results in costly surprises for workers when the Canada Revenue Agency comes calling, or big losses for the public if the income goes unreported and unnoticed. There are also more abstract concerns, related to the importance of work to human psychology and social systems. A person’s job provides a sense of identity, purpose, and security. Most of us realize that the modern labour market does not offer a great deal of economic and social stability, and many participants in the sharing economy see the fluctuations and lack of constraints as features rather than bugs. But the feelings of alienation and uncertainty can be demoralizing, and in societies that need new generations of adults to set down roots and begin undertaking long-term fiscal planning, an economy based on individuals hiring themselves out to their neighbours on a freelance basis does not seem sustainable. As one TaskRabbit employee told the New Yorker last spring, “These are jobs that don’t lead to anything.” Making sharing fair

Amidst all the hype and confusion, we should be careful not to overstate the scale of change that has taken place to date. The CCPA survey found that less than half of respondents had ever been a customer in the sharing economy, only 9 per cent had ever worked in it, and just 4 per cent were still doing so. According to Statistics Canada, roughly 2.7 million Canadians participated in the sharing economy between November 2015 and December 2016; although $1.3 billion

was spent, this is still less than 10 per cent of the population. Proponents of the sharing economy like to talk about impending revolution, but many people have barely registered the existence of these industries. Nevertheless, it is essential that governments take these matters seriously, moving the discourse about what they should be doing, and how, to the top of the political agenda. A more thorough public discussion is especially urgent given the number of people who see the sharing economy as a fair, legitimate future for the millennial generation, but who may not fully appreciate the way in which risks and burdens are being shifted onto their shoulders. And the issues we have raised are just the tip of the iceberg – there are also many concerns related to data privacy, public safety, environmental protection, and more. Here in Ontario, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act nibbles at the edges of the problem, with reforms aiming to curb the misclassification of independent contractors. There are also domestic and international examples of municipal lawmakers and regulators seeking to define more solid parameters. For instance, cities from Berlin to Vancouver have attempted to rein in AirBnB by requiring owners to register, instituting platform accountability measures, and demanding data sharing. In Toronto, some compromise was reached with respect to Uber, in that drivers will now have to be licensed and undergo a criminal background check. However, many workers and advocates say these moves amount to “capitulation,” as they maintain separate sets of standards, and effectively reward the new players for their bullying and flagrancy. More promising is the recent action in the United Kingdom, where a tribunal last year decided that Uber drivers must be treated as workers rather than contractors, and thus entitled to minimum wages and other standards. Earlier this year, London’s transportation authority declined to renew the company’s license entirely, saying that it is not a “fit and proper” car hiring company, on account of its exploitative business practices and lack of corporate responsibility. These conversations will be ongoing, and it will be important for all of us to be active in deciding how to make the system work for everyone. But on an individual, day-to-day basis, the best thing we can do is be better consumers. It is one thing to give a local teenager a bit of pocket money to shovel your driveway, or to buy some wood carvings from an amateur craftsman in Quebec, but when the enterprises start to look like true businesses, and when tax-paying, law-abiding employers and employees are being severely impacted, this becomes a public problem. With all of the lofty rhetoric about competition, individual autonomy, and mutual benefit, the temptation to avail ourselves of these new options can be great; however, in the long run, we may be undermining the social protections that we have worked so hard to create.

Adam Lemieux is Executive Resource Assistant at the OECTA Provincial Office.





Long before his classic “I Won’t Back Down” became associated with the teacher Political Protest in 1997, Tom Petty had me hooked. From the first and only time I saw him live in November 1979, to his premature and unexpected death in October, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were true companions on the road I travelled as a teacher and teacheradvocate. Teachers who were around in 1997 need only look at their pension statements to be reminded of those heady and challenging days. There, in black and white, is a stark reminder of the two weeks we donated to the cause as we stood up to the Harris Tories and their assault on the teaching profession. It wasn’t an easy thing to do and public opinion was not with us, at least initially. As teachers we found sustenance and support from within the profession, from our brothers and sisters in the union movement, and sometimes from other sources as well. It is a quirk of history that major events are often associated with songs that appear to emerge organically. Be it Bob Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind,” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth,” or Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come,” certain songs capture a moment and inspire those living through it. For me, and many teachers who I have talked with since Tom’s passing, the words “I Won’t Back Down” have come up repeatedly and have been positively associated with those two weeks in the fall of 1997. I remember the first time I heard the song at a rally in a local banquet hall and sang with those assembled.

It still moves me today and although the Political Protest ended in a less than satisfying manner for many of us, the history that was created during those two weeks defined OECTA and inspired teachers to stand up for their collective bargaining rights. Over the next decade, we would begin to reverse the tide of deteriorating working conditions and salary loss. Mike Harris, Tony Clement, Ernie Eves were jettisoned, which laid the groundwork for the restoration of the collective entitlements that the Tories had attacked. After the protest, like many of my colleagues, I returned to my classroom and focused on my “core duties.” As an English teacher, I had the opportunity – and good sense – to complement the prescribed curriculum with the poetry of popular music. The music and lyrics of Tom Petty and his collaborators featured regularly and provided ample opportunity to make connections or illuminate themes from the literature we were studying. The students and I discussed characters who “stood their ground,” “belonged somewhere they felt free,” or “went down swinging.” We examined what it meant to be “running down a dream,” “free falling out into nothing,” or “too alone to be proud.” Finally, when I moved into the area of teacher-advocacy full time and I began racking up the kilometres driving across the province representing the rights of members, I often reached for one of the 16 CDs Tom Petty recorded. They kept me company, they kept me awake, and they made me happy. I miss Tom Petty; I wish he was still around to produce more music. But what he left us was awesome. Because of one amazing song, many of us who shared that experience in 1997 came out the other side of it heartened, emboldened, and inspired. Gian Marcon is a member of the Bargaining and Contract Services department at the OECTA Provincial Office.

No I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around, and I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down, gonna stand my ground.

It p ay s to do the math




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